Laws for Paws: Buying safe products for your pets

By By Patti Lawson
Laws for Paws
PATTI LAWSON | Courtesy photo
Rusty, the author’s dog, keeps his American Kennel Club-approved toy turtle close. The turtle has nothing that can be of danger to Rusty.

When I adopted my dog, Sadie, the first thing I did was go shopping for all the items she could possibly need — and a lot of stuff, as a new dog mom, I thought she should have.

We bought the usual: a training crate, tennis balls, food, bowls, leashes and collars. We also took home mango-scented shampoo, treats, a few fancy collars, a couple very fine dog sweaters and enough toys for all the dogs in the neighborhood.

I’m not alone in this extravagance. United States pet owners spent more than $60 billion on their furry family members in 2016, according to the American Pet Products Association. 

Pet product spending includes:

n food

n over-the-counter medications

n supplies

n veterinary care

n services such as grooming, day care, boarding and pet sitters.

In each of these categories, your pet is a consumer through you, and consumer products are covered under the Uniform Commercial Code, a federal law adopted in part by most states, including West Virginia. For pet owners, this law gives you the right to expect what you buy for your pet is suitable and safe for your pet, and if it is not, you may take legal action.

The most money spent is on food at $23.28 billion per year. The large increases since 2007 are attributed to more premium pet foods entering the market after the 2007 great pet food recall no pet owner has forgotten. The recall included 180 brands of pet food and ended up in both civil and criminal court. ChemNutra Inc. and its owners individually were prosecuted for importing tainted ingredients containing melamine. They pleaded guilty to distributing adulterated and misbranded food.

In the civil cases, there were more than 100 class-action lawsuits that were all consolidated. The claimants received approximately half of the $24 million settlement. There were claims for 13,242 pets that died, but perhaps no one received what his or her pet was worth — an amount impossible to determine.

So if your pet is harmed or dies from a product including food, toys, treats, crates, bowls, clothing, leashes, collars, bedding, over-the-counter medications or just about anything else you can think of, you have a cause of action against the seller under West Virginia Code Chapter 46, which is our state’s adoption of the Uniform Commercial Code.

The UCC provides two types of warranties on products. Express warranties are exactly what the seller has promised the product is and what purpose it will perform. Implied warranties are created if the seller is one who normally sells that type of good. For example, a pet product manufacturer must produce products that are suitable for pets.

Chapter §46-2-313 — express warranties by affirmation, promise, description, sample — creates your right for the product you purchase to be expressly as the seller advertises. Under West Virginia Code §46-2-314, goods must be “fit for the ordinary purposes for which such goods are used.”

There’s a lot of legal jargon around this subject, all of which means that under the law in West Virginia, if you buy a pet product that does not suit the purpose it was sold for, or that has an express warranty, and your pet suffers harm from it, you have a right to bring legal action.

Obviously, even if you have the right to bring legal action, you don’t want your pet to suffer harm in the first place. But it happens sometimes.

There is currently a class-action lawsuit based in Missouri against Dynamic Pet Company for injuries and deaths allegedly caused by its Real Ham Bone Dog Chew. In 2010, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned dog owners splinters from dog bones could result in severe pet injury or death.

Later, the Missouri Better Business Bureau told the company of the dangers potentially associated with its dog chew product. The judge hearing the case denied the company’s motion to dismiss last July, so the case continues, but there are still retailers selling this product.

I spoke to Dawn Stanley, of Maryland, who sued Nylabone after her dog became sick and almost died when a piece of the product wrapped around his intestine. Stanley said she relied on the company’s marketing, and it failed to mention any dangers. Since then, she discovered Nylabone had been sued many times for this product. The product, by the way, is still on the market.

Pet owners need to know the law if their pet is harmed by a pet product. Dog Food Advisor is a good source to stay informed through email alerts about recalled pet food. The American Veterinary Medical Association also has a website that lists recalls for both products and food.

Patti Lawson is an award-winning author and attorney. She has written for the Huffington Post, AOL Paw Nation, the Charleston Gazette, and other publications. She lives in West Virginia with her two beloved dogs, Sadie and Rusty, and one amazing husband. Visit her website: www.pattilawson.com. Her recent book, “What Happens to Rover When the Marriage is Over? And Other Doggone Legal Dilemmas!” is available locally at book stores or on line at Amazon.com and other locations.

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